The New Jersey Devils are primed for improvement after finishing the 2018-19 season with the NHL’s third-worst record. Not only were the lottery winners fortunate enough to land Jack Hughes, but they’ll also be getting a healthy Taylor Hall back in their lineup. A knee injury limited the 2017-18 Hart Trophy winner to just 33 games last season. His return to point-per-game production would be a significant boost to an offense that averaged just 2.67 goals per game last year.
Devils GM Ray Shero had quite the off-season. Riding the momentum of winning the draft lottery and the right to select Hughes, Shero orchestrated a deal for P.K. Subban. Subban’s monstrous cap hit kept his trade value within reason, as the Devils were able to acquire him in exchange for Steven Santini, Jeremy Davies, and a pair of second-round picks.
With the foundation of his team set, Shero sought to support his now star-studded core with quality depth pieces. He brought in Wayne Simmonds on a one-year, $5M contract and acquired KHL standout Nikita Gusev from the Vegas Golden Knights. Both wingers should factor into the Devils’ top-six group of forwards and compete for power-play time. Their additions along with that of Hughes, Subban, and the return of Hall should infuse some much-needed life into this traditionally dormant offense.
Assuming Hall can stay healthy, the Devils have assembled one of the more balanced top-nines in the NHL. Hall, Nico Hischier, and Kyle Palmieri have already proven themselves to be a potent first line. Hughes and Gusev are oozing with upside, and the Devils have the luxury of leaning on Travis Zajac or even Pavel Zacha for more minutes should the rookies struggle to get acclimated to the NHL. Miles Wood and Blake Coleman are also effective play drivers at 5v5 and could play further up the lineup if necessary.
Taylor Hall (LW)
- — When healthy, Hall looked every bit the part of MVP last season. He fired 113 shots on goal in the 33 games he played, racking up 11 goals and 26 assists in the process. A point-per-game is his floor this season, with the only real risk to his production being an injury. If he can stay healthy, Hall can offer tremendous value on draft day at a position that lacks elite options.
Jack Hughes (C)
- — The upside of a first-overall pick is obvious, but there is an inevitable risk in investing too highly in a player without a professional game to their name. For what it’s worth, Hughes checks every box imaginable for a superstar centreman, and he’s done nothing but produce everywhere he’s been. Hughes will very likely be an elite fantasy asset for years to come, but to draft him as an 18-year-old, 170-pound rookie expecting that kind of production would be foolish. I’m in, but only if the price is right.
Kyle Palmieri (RW)
- — Palmieri is as reliable of a 25-goal scorer as there is in today’s NHL. He is an incredibly consistent shooter, posting a SH% between 12.1% and 13.5% for five straight seasons now. His shot volume looked to be on the rise last year before injuries ravaged the Devils roster and hindered his production. He could easily break 30 goals this season if he gets to play anywhere near a full 82 games alongside Hall, but a lack of assists caps his upside.
Nikita Gusev (LW)
- — Gusev was a force in the KHL last season, racking up 17 goals and 65 assists in 62 games as a 26-year-old. It was the third-straight season that Gusev finished with at least a point per game. Artemi Panarin, Gusev’s most obvious comparison, registered 62 points in 54 games in his last KHL season, albeit as a 24-year-old. It’s easy to get excited about Gusev, but there are too many variables at play here to draft him as a starting winger for your fantasy team. The two most obvious obstacles are his place behind Hall on the depth chart and power-play time.
Nico Hischier (C)
- — Hall’s healthy return to the lineup would make Hischier an obvious breakout candidate if the Devils hadn’t won the lottery. Hughes’ presence is a direct threat to Hischier’s production, as he could potentially usurp Hischier’s role as New Jersey’s (and Hall’s) first-line centre. If you could guarantee a full season for Nico alongside Hall at even strength and on the power-play than we’d be looking at a career year for the 20-year-old Swiss native. The upside is there, and he should be available to take as a flier near the end of your draft.
Wayne Simmonds (RW)
- — Simmonds was having trouble remaining fantasy relevant even when he was still seeing heavy minutes in Philadelphia. Now most likely resigned to a reduced role with the Devils, it’s hard to imagine Simmonds making much of an impact in standard leagues. He is a solid depth piece for New Jersey and should be of help on the man advantage, but he just won’t play or shoot enough to warrant a roster spot on draft day.
Jesper Bratt (RW)
- — Bratt impressed as a 20-year-old last season with 33 points in 51 games. He was playing just over 15 minutes a night and would be a potential breakout candidate if there was more opportunity for him on this roster. With Simmonds, Wood, and Coleman all jockeying for top-six minutes, there simply just isn’t enough ice time to go around.
Subban adds some offensive flair and star power to what was already a solid blue line. Will Butcher’s days as the Devils’ default point-man on the power-play are now over, but he should remain a steady contributor at 5v5. Sami Vatanen, Damon Severson, and Andy Greene are all capable of effectively handling steep minutes and competition at even strength, so it will be interesting to see how the ice-time is divvied up with Subban in the picture.
P.K. Subban (D)
- — Subban should enjoy an increased role in New Jersey after averaging less than 23 minutes a game last year for the first time since his rookie season. Don’t be surprised to see him return to the 55-60 point range now that he’s freed from playing on the Predators’ dreadful power-play. His shot volume and usage will make him a safe bet for double-digit goals if he can stay healthy.
Will Butcher (D)
- — Butcher’s production will no longer get the padded boost of assuming all of the 5v4 minutes New Jersey has to offer. The man advantage has accounted for exactly half of Butcher’s career point total. Barring an injury to Subban, I only expect Butcher to be a factor in the deepest of fantasy leagues this season.
Cory Schneider returns as the Devils’ starting goaltender with as little job security as he’s ever had. Schneider managed just a .903 SV% to go along with a 3.06 GAA in 26 appearances for the Devils last season. He hasn’t posted a SV% above .910 for three straight seasons now and is in serious danger of conceding starts to Mackenzie Blackwood. Blackwood was New Jersey’s most consistent goalie last season, but the .921 SV% Schneider posted after the All-Star break was enough to convince the Devils brass that he’s still the starter for the time being.
Cory Schneider (G)
- — Schneider’s performance in the second half of last season does leave room for optimism, and the team in front of him has only gotten better. Still, his struggles for the better part of three years now along with Blackwood’s emerging presence mean Schneider shouldn’t be relied on to be anything more than a fringe G2 in fantasy.
Mackenzie Blackwood (G)
- — If you do end up having to opt with Schneider as your second goalie on draft day, you’d be wise to handcuff him with Blackwood. The 22-year-old posted an impressive .918 SV% to go along with a 10-10-0 record in 23 appearances last season. A former second-round pick in 2015, Blackwood is the goalie of the future for the Devils. He could provide tremendous value at his current ADP if he can overthrow Schneider as the starting netminder.
Projected Scoring Leaders
|T. Hall (29)||T. Hall (47)||T. Hall (76)||K. Palmieri (11)||T. Hall (27)|
|K. Palmieri (27)||N. Gusev (45)||J. Hughes (66)||W. Simmonds (10)||K. Palmieri (22)|
|J. Hughes (23)||J. Hughes (43)||N. Gusev (63)||T. Hall (9)||J. Hughes (17)|
Devils in the DFO Top 300
- 24 — Taylor Hall (LW)
- 98 — P.K. Subban (D)
- 106 — Jack Huhges (C)
- 127 — Cory Schneider (G)
- 129 — Kyle Palmieri (RW)
- 145 — Nikita Gusev (LW)
- 151 — Nico Hischier (C)
- 239 — Wayne Simmonds (RW)
- 247 — Mackenzie Blackwood (G)
- 270 — Will Butcher (D)
- 288 — Jesper Bratt (RW)
|3||CAROLINA HURRICANES||41-30-11||93 PTS|
|6||NEW JERSEY DEVILS||40-34-8||88 PTS|
|8||COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS||37-35-10||84 PTS|
After an incredibly productive off-season, the Devils are set up for a drastic improvement over the 72 points they finished with a year ago. A healthy Taylor Hall should be enough on its own to bring this team back into playoff contention. The development and contributions from New Jersey’s young core players will be the difference between a playoff berth and simply stepping out of the basement of the NHL.